Featured Image Credit: Paul Caiger/ University of Auckland
By Jessica Kittel
It’s not usually very polite to call someone loud let alone to give the title of loudest animal in the ocean, but in the case of the snapping shrimp or pistol shrimp (Cragnon Synalpheus), it’s the truth.
As explained on bbc.com, the snapping shrimp has an exceptionally large claw that they use as a sound pistol. By snapping their claw shut, they generate such an intense burst of sound that it stuns their prey. Not surprisingly, they also use this loud noise to communicate with their fellow snapping shrimp that have made homes in nearby sand.
What might be more surprising is that it may not just be fellow shrimp that listen for these shrimp sounds. New research from Oregon State University researcher Joe Haxel suggests that gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) likely use these shrimp sounds to help them locate their food.
Gray whales are mysticete whales also known as baleen whales. Like other whales in this group, they eat very small organisms and use their baleen as a strainer to separate their food from the surrounding water, as stated on wwf.panda.org. Gray whales differ from their fellow baleen whales due to the fact that they seem to favor prey that lives very close to or on the seafloor. They’re known to roll in the mud in order to suck benthic critters from the substrate.
Haxel noticed that the snapping shrimp tend to inhabit rocky areas that are also home to swarms of zooplankton, a favorite snack of the gray whale. As stated on opb.org, Haxel is exploring the idea that these shrimp could be providing an “acoustic cue for the gray whales as they’re foraging.”
This new information could add support to the argument that human noise pollution negatively affects whales’ behavior especially since Haxel also discovered that the only sound loud enough to drown out the shrimp is the sound of boats passing by.